Oct. 13, 2014
By Mark Frego (’15)
In a soft, unassuming tone that belies her status as an accomplished leader, University of Notre Dame women’s soccer junior defender Katie Naughton attempts to recount the beginning of her sparkling career within the United States Soccer youth national team system.
“I think I got called up to the U-14 level when I was 13,” Naughton says. “That’s the first big training camp that they hold. It’s usually in Palo Alto, California, and there are about 100 girls there.”
One can hardly blame her for struggling a bit – how many of us remember what we were doing in eighth grade?
Middle school memories aside, Naughton dazzled at the camp and has been a mainstay in the national team system ever since. Now a key player on the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team, Naughton logged 14 starts during the 2013-2014 U-20 cycle, including all four U.S. matches in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Naughton’s tenure with the program has afforded her the opportunity to compete against elite talent from countries around the world, from Denmark to Spain to Trinidad and Tobago. It’s playing with her U.S. teammates, though, that Naughton considers the most valuable part of her national team training.
“Practices are where I learn the most,” she says. “We bring so much competitive spirit and drive to every session. We’re playing with the best players in the country in our age group, and we’re all competing against each other for a spot on the field. I love my teammates, but at the same time, I’m trying to beat them out. It can get pretty scrappy at times.
“The experience is incredible. It absolutely benefitted me when I came to Notre Dame.”
A consensus five-star recruit coming out of Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, all major media outlets ranked Naughton as a top-10 player in the class of 2012. She immediately validated these lofty rankings, starting 23 matches as a freshman while anchoring an Irish defense that tallied 10 shutouts.
Her transition from the high school to college classroom was equally as smooth, as few athletes, past or present, have come to Notre Dame as seasoned as Naughton in terms of time management. She would often miss a week of classes here and there in high school due to her national team commitments, and therefore was completely unfazed by the challenge of balancing school and soccer.
A mid-week road trip to Connecticut with an exam later in the week? A piece of cake for the freshman.
Naughton was named a team captain heading into her sophomore campaign, becoming the first sophomore since Jessica Schuveiller in 2009 to serve in that role. The season proved to be a trying experience for Naughton, though, as she struggled with being such a young leader on a team that hit its fair share of rough patches. The Irish finished a respectable 13-8-1 in 2013, its first season as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, but certainly not up to the standards the program has long come to expect.
“Last year it was just a little unnerving for me because I was an underclassman,” Naughton says. “I felt a little overwhelmed at times.”
Following the season, longtime Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum resigned to take the reins of the expansion Houston Dash franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), leaving a gaping hole in leadership that Naughton, as a captain, was essentially forced to fill. Hardened by a season of captaincy, along with leadership experience in Notre Dame’s cutting edge Rosenthal Leadership Academy and Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), the defender was finally prepared to direct her team with confidence.
“[Waldrum’s departure] did catapult me into more of a leadership role,” Naughton says. “There wasn’t really a figurehead at the time. The previous season had helped me see what my strengths and weaknesses were as a leader, and I let that mold my perspective in the offseason.”
Not surprising, Naughton once again was selected by her teammates as a captain at the start of the 2014 campaign. This year, however, has seen her take on a new and more expanded role than her first go-around last season, with teammates increasingly looking to her for guidance while transitioning from Waldrum to new head coach Theresa Romagnolo.
“It’s been a relatively smooth transition, I’d say,” Naughton says. “We were anxious to see who our next coach would be, and I think Coach Theresa has filled that role well.”
“We try to roll out any issues that might occur or anything else like that,” Naughton says. “It’s an open dialogue.”
Naughton feels particularly comfortable leading the team alongside Roccaro, as the two have trained together in the U.S. Soccer youth system since their U-14 showcase in Palo Alto seven years ago. The juniors started next to each other on the U.S. back line in the recent FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
“We’re pretty close,” Naughton says. “Playing next to each other on the U.S. team was really cool. We don’t generally get a chance to play next to each other at school, so I think we got to know each other even better through that experience.”
A Naughton-Roccaro back line could quickly become a familiar sight to U.S. Soccer fans, as both players are among their age group’s top performers. Roccaro even served as the team’s captain at the aforementioned U-20 World Cup.
Naughton is refreshingly humble when discussing her future with the national team as well as her aspirations to play professionally. At the end of the day, she simply just wants to play soccer.
“I definitely do want to play professionally in the U.S.,” she says. “But if that doesn’t work out I’m not opposed to going abroad and playing.”
The anthropology and Spanish double major in the College of Arts and Letters holds an acute interest in the study of foreign cultures. While her extensive athletic talents have given her numerous opportunities to explore this hobby, Naughton’s adventures abroad have left her wanting more.
“I want to travel,” Naughton says. “Being part of the U.S. national team program for so much of my life is a huge reason why I’m so interested in different cultures and people. Thanks to my involvement with the program, I have been able to see and experience so much than I ever anticipated.”
A top-level soccer talent with a desire to travel the globe? Somehow, this situation will work itself out just fine.